Brooklyn-based jazz violinist Tomoko Omura will join the Pamela Hines Trio at Indian Hill Music on Friday, November 30 at 7:30pm. We chatted with the Downbeat Magazine “Rising Star” and Berklee alumna about her sound, her influences, and her process.
How did you become interested in playing violin? In playing jazz?
My mother is a violin instructor and a violinist/violist and I started at 4 with her playing classical. But it was not a strict training.
When I was a teenager, my brother was listening to Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius, Miles Davis, etc. and playing drums. The genre of music felt so close to my heart and was such a different feeling from the relationship I had with the classical music at the time. I started to explore listening to many different kinds of music. When I heard “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis when my brother was playing the album from his room, that was the moment I fell in love with jazz.
You had the chance to study at Berklee College of Music with some of America’s great jazz and roots violinists like Matt Glaser. How did your Berklee studies influence you musically?
I discovered Matt Glaser’s video tape with instruction of how to play swing violin in Japan and found out he teaches at Berklee — and I decided to study there. I was in a university in Japan at the time, but finished it and saved up money doing many part-time jobs, then moved to Boston.
Berklee’s influence on me is huge. Everything I learned and worked on there is a part of me now. Also, you develop relationships with the people you met there both professors and the students. I think some of them are lifetime relationships and very important to me.
When I heard “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis when my brother was playing the album from his room, that was the moment I fell in love with jazz.
You were the first student violinist to win the prestigious Roy Haynes award at Berklee for improvisation. Do you have any tips for students who are learning improvisation?
I spent lots of time listening to jazz during my teenage years and although I was not playing jazz on the violin yet that time, I absorbed the sound and found the sound I loved. Later, during my university studies in Japan (not music school — my major was something else) I spent time devoted to listening, transcribing and trying to imitate the sound with no instructors. I consider that the process was vital for me and informed the way I play today.
I think self-taught process is important. To be an improviser or a jazz musician, you have to be an innovator of your own style. Learning the methods and the concepts is helpful, but you need to develop your ear first before any textbooks.
You have a trio called Post Bop Gypsies. Are you influenced by Gypsy jazz?
The Post Bop Gypsies concept is to play modern jazz, bebop and beyond with a typical Gypsy jazz instrumentation which is a violin, a guitar and a bass. I resonate with bebop and beyond — modern jazz — much more strongly: Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and modern players.
Who do you consider your biggest musical influences?
Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny, Michel Petruciani, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Allan Holdsworth, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Bach, Ravel, Bjork, and of course, my husband (jazz pianist, keyboardist, composer, and arranger) Glenn Zaleski…
What kinds of music/bands/musicians are you listening to right now?
It is difficult to list all, but the artists like, Tigran, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Ambrose Akinmusire, Greg Ward, Ben Van Gelder, Fred Hersch, Keith Jarrett, Allan Holdsworth, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Joe Henderson, Lennie Tristano, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and lots of works by my musician friends in New York.
What are your favorite things to do outside of music?
Cooking, riding a bicycle, a ramen or sushi hang with my friends, playing with my cat or street cats, and finding a good coffee.